Fall 2021

Film, Myth, and the Law

Listed in: Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought, as LJST-352

Formerly listed as: FAMS-51  |  LJST-25  |  LJST-52

Moodle site: Course


Austin D. Sarat (Section 01)
Martha M. Umphrey (Section 01)


[Analytic Seminar] The proliferation of law in film, on television, and online has expanded the sphere of legal life itself. Law lives in images which today saturate our culture and which have a power all their own, and the moving image provides a domain in which legal power operates independently of law’s formal institutions. This course takes up law and film to explore law’s image and the imagined life of law. It will consider the ways “myths” about law are reproduced and contested in film and other visual media, and the way film proposes a visual aesthetics of law. We will ask what happens when legal events are re-narrated in film and examine the treatment of legal officials, events, and institutions (e.g. police, lawyers, judges, trials, executions, prisons), discussing how that treatment positions them in relation to processes of judgment, interpretation, and violence. Attending to the visual dimensions and dynamics of law’s imagined lives as well as to the viewer’s relation to law on film we will also explore the ways in which law provides a template for film spectatorship, positioning viewers as detectives and as jurors. Does film open up new possibilities of judgment, model new modes of interpretation, and provide new insights into law’s violence?

Limited to 15 students. Fall Semester. Professors Umphrey and Sarat.

If Overenrolled: priority will be given to LJST and FAMS majors


Attention to Writing


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2021